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Clashes erupt despite Syria truce

Published : Saturday, 31 December, 2016 at 12:00 AM  Count : 583

BEIRUT, Dec 30 : A nationwide ceasefire was holding across most of Syria on Friday but clashes near Damascus underlined the fragility of the deal brokered by Turkey and Russia.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and rebel forces were fighting in the Wadi Barada area, where opposition fighters have cut water supplies to the capital.
Syria's government had been shelling the area before the truce began at midnight as it pushes rebels there to accept a "reconciliation deal" and leave the area.
Among the forces present there is former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, which Syria's government says is excluded from the ceasefire.
Syria's government says rebels in Wadi Barada, northwest of the capital, deliberately targeted water infrastructure that supplies the capital last week.
The damage in Wadi Barada and neighbouring Ain al-Fijeh has created severe water shortages in Damascus.
The UN said Thursday that four million people in Damascus and surrounding suburbs were now without water.
The ceasefire is the first nationwide truce to be implemented in the country since September, and is intended to pave the way for new peace talks in Kazakhstan sponsored by Russia and Turkey.
Syria's government hailed the agreement as a "real opportunity" to find a political solution to the war, which has killed more than 310,000 people since it began with anti-regime protests in March 2011.
And despite being left out of the process, Washington also hailed the truce agreement as a "positive development", saying it hoped it would bring new negotiations.
The agreement comes a week after the regime, which is backed by ally Russia, recaptured second city Aleppo in a major blow to rebel forces.
Putin said Damascus and the "main forces of the armed opposition" had inked a truce and a document expressing readiness to start peace talks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the agreement as a "historic opportunity" and urged states with influence on the ground to show "the necessary sensitivity" to ensure the truce held.
Syria's conflict has become a complex multi-front battle, with a range of outside players intervening, including Russia, which launched a military campaign to bolster President Bashar al-Assad last year.
Putin said Friday he would now reduce Moscow's military contingent in Syria, though he added Russia would continue to fight "terrorism" and maintain its support for the government.
And Erdogan also emphasised that Ankara would continue an operation it began in August targeting the Islamic State group and Kurdish fighters.
Moscow says seven key rebel groups have signed up to the deal, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham faction, but the truce does not include jihadists such as IS or former Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded the Fateh al-Sham Front.    �AFP

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